Vikings Will Experience an Old Friend on Sunday

Oct 1, 2023; London, United Kingdom; Fans seen during the first half of an NFL International Series game at Wembley Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Peter van den Berg-USA TODAY Sports.

The Minnesota Vikings postseason hopes dipped tremendously Sunday afternoon after losing quarterback Kirk Cousins to a season-ending Achilles injury.

Per ESPN’s Football Power Index (FPI), Minnesota has a 47.9% chance of reaching the playoffs, thanks to a three-game win streak over the Chicago Bears, San Francisco 49ers, and Green Bay Packers.

Vikings Will Experience an Old Friend on Sunday

And when the Vikings try to make it four wins consecutively, an old friend will be waiting in Atlanta on Sunday.

He’s Taylor Heinicke, promoted on Wednesday after Falcons skipper Arthur Smith told reporters that incumbent QB1 Desmond Ridder would hit the bench.

Will Experience an Old
Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) looks for a receiver against the Tennessee Titans during the third quarter at Nissan Stadium in Nashville, Tenn., Sunday, Oct. 29, 2023. © Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean / USA TODAY NETWORK.

“There’s a lot of variables. Then, really, considering the last 72 hours and kind of where we’re at right now, going into this week with Minnesota, getting ready to play the Vikings, obviously a really good team coming in here. Going with Taylor, and that’s why he’s here right now,” Smith told the media four days before Falcons-Vikings.

Atlanta owns a 4-4 record through eight weeks — the same as the Vikings — and Sunday’s showdown is ultra-pivotal per playoff positioning and eventual tiebreaking procedures.

Oct 29, 2023; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Atlanta Falcons quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) against the Tennessee Titans during the first second at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports.

Heinicke has started 25 games in seven NFL seasons while his teams tabulated a perfectly average 12-12-1 (.500) record along the way. Here’s his career resume to date:

  • Minnesota Vikings (2015–2016)
  • New England Patriots (2017)
  • Houston Texans (2017)
  • Carolina Panthers (2018)
  • St. Louis BattleHawks, XFL (2020)
  • Washington Commanders (2020–2022)
  • Atlanta Falcons (2023–present)

The veteran passer was rising within the Vikings organization seven years ago and might’ve started some games in purple when Teddy Bridgewater was hurt in 2016. But he reportedly kicked in a window of a friend’s apartment, tearing a tendon in his foot and stunting his career trajectory. Now 30 years old, Heinicke is on tap to start for his third NFL team.

Dec 24, 2022; Santa Clara, California, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) celebrates after a touchdown during the third quarter against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi’s Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports.

The Vikings saw Heinicke in 2022, too, defeating the Washington Commanders in Landover by a score of 20-17 on November 6th. Heinicke will basically play against the Vikings one year apart.

The Falcons rank 25th through eight games per overall team DVOA, with a 24th ranking offensively and 25th placement on defense. Atlanta employs weapons galore in Bijan Robinson, Kyle Pitts, and Drake London but curiously doesn’t utilize them like a normal NFL team. Perhaps Heinicke changes that on Sunday.

Jan 1, 2023; Landover, Maryland, USA; Washington Commanders quarterback Taylor Heinicke (4) stands on the sidelines against the Cleveland Browns during the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports.

As a starter last year, Heinicke ranked 23rd per EPA+CPOE among all 32 qualifying quarterbacks.

Dustin Baker is a political scientist who graduated from the University of Minnesota in 2007. Subscribe to his daily YouTube Channel, VikesNow. He hosts a podcast with Bryant McKinnie, which airs every Wednesday with Raun Sawh and Sal Spice. His Vikings obsession dates back to 1996. Listed guilty pleasures: Peanut Butter Ice Cream, ‘The Sopranos,’ Basset Hounds, and The Doors (the band).

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